Maiden Voyages: August 2018

Graham Ovenden’s Official Website: Now that the hype about the Ovenden case has receded somewhat, the artist felt it was time to show that he has not simply retreated into the background. The lack of internet presence in the past turned out to be something of a blessing because it meant that the prosecution could not make a case for the trafficking of pornography over the internet. Even today, Ovenden rarely communicates by email and only to a small circle of friends and trusted associates. However, he has been keen on establishing his own website the past few years and perhaps a forum for telling his side of the story. A couple of weeks ago, the official website (designed by Rainbow Digital Media and the artist himself) was launched. Viewers will discover that, far from being idle the past few years, Ovenden has finished a number of very new paintings (landscapes and portraits) and digital graphics projects. Also present is a sample of his photography (both documentary and model studies), architecture and literature (largely inspired by his recent experiences with the legal system). There is also a page for an Afterword which will offer updates about the latest legal actions, issues and comments by the artist when such information will not compromise his position on pending countersuits. Because of all the negative press, there will be no comments section or a place to send a message to the artist. Instead, Pigtails in Paint has been asked to serve in a public relations capacity and help field inquiries and orders for Garage Press materials (more on this later). In other words, the target audience for this new site are museums, libraries and serious collectors. Take a look!

More on Balthus: In the hype about the recent exhibition of the Balthus paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is often the assumption that the only issue is what voyeurs should legally be able to get away with. Often overlooked, is the experiences of the model and why such girls might be interested in participating in the work. Lauren Elkin wrote an interesting piece that offers a rare perspective. I think the author does needlessly equivocate but it is important, particularly for male readers, to understand the young girl’s attitude and motivations.

The Happiest Two Kids on Earth: Pip shared an interesting item: video footage of a special tour Walt Disney gave two children (a boy and a girl) of Disneyland just before its grand opening in 1955. The interesting thing is how much more attention Disney seems to have given the little girl. If memory serves, Disney himself had two daughters so perhaps these interactions were simply more natural for him.

Thought Police? On a peripheral subject, a man serving time for the possession and distribution of child pornography had his term extended when sexually-explicit images and stories produced by the prisoner were found by authorities. The circumstances of this case does offer some fodder for debate about the limits of personal thought.

Nymph or Nymphet: John William Waterhouse and the Ever-Shifting Definition of Pedophilia

There is no shortage of controversy these days over artworks featuring nude and/or eroticized children. Quite often these turn out to be massively overblown, and more often than not the “erotic” aspects of said art are purely in the eye of the critical beholder. But at least in most of those cases the art does feature an actual child. Recently a painting by Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse, called Hylas and the Nymphs, was removed from display at the Manchester Art Gallery in a blatant attempt to create controversy where none previously existed.  This was supposedly done in order to “encourage debate” about the way the female body is represented in relation to the male gaze or something.  It’s not hard to see where this is going, right?

John William Waterhouse – Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)

This publicity stunt was in fact prompted by an actual controversy over Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming (which does feature an underage girl in a somewhat provocative pose) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Mia Merrill was the person who formally objected to the work, arguing that the Met was, “romanticising voyeurism and the objectification of children.”  On those grounds she presented the museum with a petition containing over 8,000 signatures in order to pressure the Met into removing the work.  To its credit, the museum refused to bow to such political concerns, and the work was left alone.

Balthus – Thérèse Dreaming (1938)

Nevertheless, this convinced Clare Gannaway, curator of the Manchester Art Gallery, to remove the Waterhouse painting temporarily.  Her reasoning was thus:

It’s not about saying these things can’t exist in a public gallery – it’s about saying, maybe we just need to challenge the way these paintings have been read and enable them to speak in a different way.

In other words, her plan was to generate some sort of larger cultural reaction to art on the whole, a #MeToo-like movement where we collectively reassess the youthful female form in art and shed light on how we have long taken for granted the male exploitation of the female form.  Now, I have no problem with challenging the paradigmatic conception of femininity in art, but the proper way to do that is not to play moral panic games with the public by introducing a pseudo-controversy into the dialogue.

People were asked to comment on this state of affairs, garnering predictably mixed results, with one or more of the commenters noting some supposed pedophilic aspect to Waterhouse’s portrayal of the nymphs.  Says Chris Taylor:

Not one of your correspondents seems to want to directly address Hylas and the Nymphs’s subtle, but surely unmistakable, paedophilic content. I can understand why the male spectator finds a peculiar difficulty in broaching this – there are always problematic moral considerations of the direct imputation of taboo motives for that male gaze (however expressed). But what of the female spectator’s gaze? Having lectured on British and French 19th-century art for many years, I have always been struck by the extraordinary art critical silence in discussing the ways in which paedophilic desire is often embodied in that century’s depiction of the female nude. Or have I simply misunderstood – is it the case that paedophilic desire did not exist before the 20th century?

It’s interesting that Taylor points out the painting’s unmistakable pedophilic content, since to my knowledge no one had, until this point, recognized it in any explicit way, or else every single viewer who saw it just ignored that part of it.  Or, could it be that it simply isn’t there?  As per usual, the modern feminist critic’s definition of pedophilia is very different from the clinical definition, which limits it to desire for prepubescent children only.  Whereas Waterhouse’s nymphs are, at the very youngest, 15 or 16 (with 16 being the legal age of consent in the painter’s native England then, as now).  While these nymphs are certainly young, as nymphs are traditionally meant to be, no one could accuse them of being prepubescent.

Nor is the context particularly exploitative or suggestive of pedophilia.  Far from being some sly old lech attempting to seduce a naive young girl, Hylas is himself clearly a youth, beardless and, from all appearances, rather reluctant to be pulled into the nymphs’ watery domain.  If anything, it is the females who appear to have the sexual upper hand here.  They outnumber the boy seven to one, and they are obviously the seducers, not the seducees.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Gannaway’s attempted attachment of the male admiration of the young female body in art to the #MeToo phenomenon is that it in fact minimizes the horror of actual sexual assault by muddying the waters with something much more innocuous, the flip side of which is a dangerous conflation of fantasy and reality in this era of “alternative fact.”  This was a badly conceived thought experiment that should have been nixed at the brainstorming stage.  If we’re lucky, this will be a minor blip soon forgotten.  Unfortunately, it may have as yet unseen repercussions which could conceivably do real damage to the art world before cooler minds prevail.

Maiden Voyages: January 2018

This is looking to be a banner year for Pigtails.  So many things are really coming together and I am refreshed and ready to get back on track.

Ode to a Special 7-Year-Old: Pip and I have often referred to Pigtails in Paint as a work of art in its own right with a kind of life of its own.  Christian recently suggested that we do a special post for the 7th anniversary.  This idea did not appeal to me at first since “seven” is not usually a landmark year.  However, given the subject matter of this site, it is apropos that we do something to commemorate our little girl reaching—what many of you will agree—is a particularly delightful age.  We will be featuring relevant poetry contributed by Christian and original poems written by Graham Ovenden and Pip Starr.  Since I like this site to be a communal effort, I would like to solicit suggestions from our readers and contributors.  Don’t forget: the anniversary date is February 15th.

The New Doomsday Book: For those who are unfamiliar, when William the Conqueror took over England, he had a detailed accounting of all assets in the country so he would know what property fell under his domain.  It got its name because of its thoroughness: that no thing of value could escape its accounting.  While Graham Ovenden was serving prison time, he was not just passing the time.  He did a lot of reading, writing and even got to do some painting.  Most notable though is his diary which is a meticulous accounting of the malpractices and injustices of the police, the media and Her Majesty’s courts and officials.  After Ovenden’s release, a barrister came forward to offer his services in suing the police, the media (excepting two companies) and the courts.  The full documentation of the details has actually been beautifully bound together in a book, complete with high-quality images.  Once this case begins to get public traction, it may be one of the most revealing exposés on the corruption rampant in these organizations.

The Latest Victim of the Censorship Police: Facebook does it once again.  After being blocked for one day for posting an Ilona Szwarc image, now Christian has been blocked for 3 days for posting a while back a painting by William Sargeant Kendall, Narcissa (1907). Christian says he will go on posting art until they throw him out.  The most disturbing twist is that Facebook wants to know who he really is.  When they learned that he was using an alias—not allowed according to the Facebook ToS—they suspended his account.  Account holders are required to give their real first and last name which is a real blow to freedom of speech, particularly in countries where people are subject to dictatorial repression.  So if Christian wishes to continue on Facebook, he will have to share information that would make it possible for various trolls and fascists to harass him at his home for expressing his unconventional views.  Christian says he prefers VK which has not censored him so far but it is used mostly by Russians.

Coming to the Defense: It is nice, for a change, to see a museum not kowtow to the lowest common denominator and refusing to take down one of Balthus’ paintings entitled Thérèse Dreaming (1938), depicting a young girl in a pose that leaves her underwear showing—quite usual for this artist..  The Metropolitan Museum of Art received an online petition with over 8,000 signatures urging the museum to reconsider its decision to include this painting.

Liberation and Pigtails’ New-Old Look:  Readers may have noticed a change in the appearance of the site. These new changes are actually old.  I liked the look of the posts in the original incarnation of this site first established by Pip.  When we were kicked off of WordPress, we had to start over.  I did not realize that selecting a new ‘Theme’ meant that we had to accept the accompanying typestyle and paragraph style.  For a while, I was at a loss on how to make this adjustment without a major overhaul until recently.  The heading font is called ‘Liberation’ which I think is quite appropriate.  I hope you will all agree with me that this look is much more suitable and reflects the proper artistic sensibility expressed in this site.  Also, the obstacle of including categories to the reference pages has been overcome as well and, in the next few months, readers will see a major expansion to ‘The Pipeline’, especially the list of artists and films.  This will make it easier to know which items we are aware of and what materials are still needed to do proper posts.

Domains and Extortion on the Web: When we switched to pigtailsinpaint.org, I thought it made sense to retire the old .com domain.  This seemed a good idea at first, but there was the problem of forwarding all the ‘legacy’ links from posts that were popular in the past.  Also, we had no way of controlling what a new owner might do with the domain.  Bad luck and naivete has now put us in a position of losing the domain.  Unbeknownst to us, the company who registered the domain for us went out of business and we were not informed.  When the domain expired, it was not renewed/updated as expected.  By the time we realized we had to deal with a new company, it was too late and the domain was sold to someone else.  We are still making an appeal to ICANN since we were not given a fair opportunity to renew and I do have a receipt showing that I attempted to renew in good faith.  A few days ago, I received an email from someone who claimed to be the new owner asking us for $1200 to get our old domain back!  I am told this is a common practice these days.  I will keep readers apprised as more details become available.

The Most Beautiful Little Girl?  The media’s incessant need for sensationalism continues.  This time, they insist on stirring things up by perpetuating the notion of six-year-old Anastasia Knyazeva as the “most beautiful girl in the world”.  This is a completely subjective moniker once given to Thylane Blondeau when she was the same age.  In particular, it seems this girl has been singled out because of her unusual doll-like appearance.

Adorable Braiding Video: A colleague forwarded a link to this French video called Tuto coiffure facile by Tape à l’oeil – La couronne tressée.  It is an instructional video demonstrating a particular braiding technique.  The especially lovely girl featured also narrates the video.

… and on a personal note: I know even my colleagues did not know this, but I have had more difficulty seeing due to rapid-onset cataracts.  I am pleased to announce that my surgery was successful and my vision is clear again.  As a result, it should be easier to review new material and produce posts from now on.  So this year, my sincerity in wishing you all a Happy New Year is especially heartfelt.  -Ron

To Be Fair (Mirror, Mirror) – Pt. 2

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Balthus – Nude with a Mirror

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Balthus – Golden Days (1944-45)

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Balthus – Cat with Mirror III (1989-94)

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Balthus – Nude Before a Mirror (1955)

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Thomas Baker – The Mirror (Mary)

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Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun – Julie Le Brun with Mirror (1787)

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Kathy Barker – French Kiss

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Kathy Barker – Le Miroir

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Kathy Barker – Mirror Image

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Jean-Étienne Liotard – Young Girl Singing Into a Mirror (1700s)

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Melissa Ann Pinney – Emma at the Mirror

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Morgan Weistling – Reflection

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Slava Groshev – Old Mirror

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Suzanne Valadon – Nude at the Mirror (1909)

Wikipedia: Balthus

NY Times: Excerpt from ‘Balthus: A Biography’ by Nicholas Fox Weber

Thomas Baker Oil Painting

Wikipedia: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

Kathy Barker Portraiture

Melissa Ann Pinney

Morgan Weistling

Fine Arts International: Slava Groshev

Wikipedia: Suzanne Valadon

Suzanne: Of Love and Art (A novel based on the life of Valadon)